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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Noisy frat boys and the parents of a newborn face off in Neighbors
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The antagonists are more similar than they realize.
The antagonists are more similar than they realize.

Elise and Zoey Vargas may be the most adorable children ever captured on video. Jointly playing the baby of first-time parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) in Neighbors, the twins elicit an involuntary "awwwwww" every time they flash a four-toothed grin. Nobody was immune to the cuteness at the screening I attended: not critics, not hulking frat guys there for the gross-out comedy, nobody.

So in a movie that's supposed to be about a raucous battle of pranks, the most memorable thing is a cute baby?

Yes.

This may be unfairly dismissive of the generally funny Neighbors, which is directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and penned by first-time feature writers Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien. Rogen and Byrne are cast comfortably: He's a genial pot smoker, and she gets to speak in her native Australian accent. Mac and Kelly must contend with the Delta Psi fraternity when it buys the house next door. Though they initially try to play nice with the party-hearty crew and its president, Teddy (Zac Efron), the escalating noise levels disturbing their sleep lead them to start a conflict no one could escape without humiliation.

Neighbors is also about the couple's ambivalent transition into responsible, married-with-kid adulthood. Their interactions with their less-encumbered friends (Carla Gallo, Ike Barinholtz) make them think they can still be hip, even with a mortgage and their precious progeny. There's a great scene where they plan to go to a rave with Stella in tow, gather mountains of baby gear, and then fall asleep in the entryway to their house. Their initial efforts to buddy up with Teddy and company represent a desperate hope that they actually should be hanging out with college kids.

Meanwhile, Teddy, a senior eager to be immortalized on the frat's Wall of Honor by throwing a legendary party, fears that nothing worthwhile awaits him after graduation. Neighbors is built on the notion that the antagonists are more alike than they realize: They're all clinging to a familiar sense of what makes a happy existence, refusing to adjust as their lives change.

This may sound heady for a movie directed by Stoller, a Judd Apatow protégé who wrote for the short-lived TV series Undeclared. Like Apatow, he's more concerned with jokes than structure. Many rambling riffs lead to laughs, but it's hard to dig into a thematic idea when there are so many punch lines.

All in all, Neighbors settles for a collection of decent gags and set pieces rather than something truly focused on growing up with grace. Conversations about maturity get interrupted by jokes, which in turn get interrupted by the world's cutest baby.

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